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Yale 62

YAC Tour to the Baltics Part II
By Griff Resor

(Ed. Note: for Part I, click here.)

Singing Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna in the loft with Riga Cathedral’s pipe organ

In July 2013 YAC visited the Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.  In Baltic Tour Part 1, I described highlights of our pre-tour to Saint Petersburg and our time in Estonia.  This article provides highlights of our tour in Latvia and Lithuania.

Each YAC tour includes important educational elements.  Experts who know about local issues speak to us, often during breakfast.  On the Baltic tour we learned about the singing revolution that led to independence from the Soviet Union without a shot being fired.

Before World War II, the Baltic countries were independent nations.  A secret pact signed in 1939 between Hitler and Stalin put the Baltic countries under Soviet rule.  Control remained in Soviet hands after World War II.  On August 20, 1989, the 50th anniversary of the 1939 pact, the three Baltic countries organized a huge protest demonstration.  They formed a human chain of two million people that spanned the full length of the three countries.  The number of participants represented nearly 33% of the total population.  This demonstration is known as The Baltic Way.  A YouTube video at The Baltic Way 30 – YouTube describes this event very well.

The Radisson Blu hotel served as our home in Riga, Latvia’s capital.  Our concert began in the Cathedral loft.  The Lauridsen Lux Aeterna was sung with the Cathedral’s large pipe organ.  We then moved down to the main floor to sing our acapella songs, which included pieces arranged by Jeff Douma and Fenno Heath.

Between rehearsals and the concert our tour organizer Classical Movements, surprised us with a celebration of YAC’s 15th birthday. They rented a large ‘castle’ built by a German merchant in the 19th century. Jere Johnson and Sherry Agar, past Presidents, are shown holding the flaming birthday cake.

Jere and his wife Pat presented a slide show history of YAC’s 15 years. This was a great way for new singers to see what earlier tours looked like. Each tour includes several scholarship recipients. These are most often first sopranos and first tenors, voice parts that seem to disappear with age.

From Riga, we bused to Vilnius, Lithuania. Soon after crossing into Lithuania, we stopped at the Hill of Crosses. During Soviet occupation, the Catholic faith was prohibited by the communists. In protest, worshipers began to place crosses on the hill. This has grown each year, and now makes a very impressive sight.

We performed 3 concerts in Lithuania, one in Kaunas and two in Vilnius. On the way to Kaunas, we visited the Paneriai Forest Holocaust Memorial. This site commemorates the killing of 30,000 captured Russian soldiers and 70,000 Jews between 1941 and 1943. Peter Sipple, Yale Class of ’62, led the memorial service. After several readings, the chorus closed the service by singing Randall Thompson’s “Alleluia.” This piece had become a part of each YAC tour, so was sung from memory. A very moving way to end the service.

Part of the Class ’62 in Vilnius: Left to right: Judy Knutson, Joe Holmes, Poppy Holmes, Joanne Gerlach, John Gerlach, Griff Resor (standing), John Knutson, and Pam Resor

Not far from Vilnius is Trakai Castle. This has been preserved to commemorate a high point in Lithuania’s history. Around 1400, Lithuania controlled territory from today’s Lithuania all the way to the Black Sea. People from what is today’s Crimea settled at Trakai in the 1300s. This is a Turkish-speaking group. Their religion derives from Judaism. It is not clear this group volunteered to live in the very cold North!

Our first concert in Vilnius was done to benefit the European Humanities University. This school moved from Belarus to Vilnius in 1992. They were forced out of Belarus because they refused to teach only Soviet approved courses. Many students today come from Belarus to get a Western style education. Those who do return to Belarus are often under surveillance by the repressive Belarus regime. Vilnius is close to the border with Belarus. The audience included local political leaders and donors who support EHU financially. YAC sponsored a one-year scholarship.

Our final concert was part of Vilnius’ Saint Christopher Summer Music Festival. We opened with the acapella numbers and finished signing the beautiful Lux Aeterna with pipe organ accompaniment. This was followed by our farewell banquet. Until we meet again!

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